Sweetie turns sour

Using a cutesy pet name or baby talk with your partner can cause sex life to dwindle


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They may not have realized it, but every time TV husbands Ward Cleaver and Ozzie Nelson walked in the door at the end of the day and greeted their wives with a hearty, "Hi, honey, I'm home," they were chipping away at their chances of getting lucky.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/01/2012 (3878 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They may not have realized it, but every time TV husbands Ward Cleaver and Ozzie Nelson walked in the door at the end of the day and greeted their wives with a hearty, “Hi, honey, I’m home,” they were chipping away at their chances of getting lucky.

According to self-help authors Maggie Arana and Julienne Davis, “Calling your partner honey is the first step down the slippery slope toward a bland or nonexistent sexual relationship.”

And it’s not just “honey.” Any endearing nickname — “sweetie,” “darling,” “pookie,” “pumpkin” and Jerry Seinfeld’s gag-reflexive “schmoopie” — they say, will open the “Pandora’s Box of non-sexuality,” which also contains other bad habits of over-familiarity that, over time, can turn lovers into roommates.

It happened to Arana, a journalist and freelance writer. In fact, it was the demise of her seemingly strong, 20-year relationship, which she attributes to her and her partner losing their sense of individuality and becoming too entwined, that inspired the book.

“Looking back, I realized that my own sex life started to disappear when my partner and I began using pet names and baby talk with each other,” she writes in Stop Calling Him Honey… and Start Having Sex!

Reflecting on her past relationships, Davis, a model and actress (she played a junkie prostitute in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut), came to the same conclusion. After interviewing other couples, she and Arana discovered that nearly all the ones who were using silly pet names (their personal fave was McMuffin Poopen Cakes) suffered from humdrum sex lives. If they were having sex at all.

Associated Press archives Using a cutesy pet name or baby talk with your partner can cause sex life to dwindle.

The authors’ hypothesis?

“Names have a very deep impact subconsciously, especially when they are repeated day after day, year after year,” Davis, a reformed user of “pookie,” says during a phone interview. Both women currently live in Los Angeles with their “non-honey” partners.

That age-old, enduring “honey,” is an androgynous word that erodes each partner’s individuality and sexuality, she says, inadvertently turning him or her into a cuddly friend. As the book says: “Honey is great at spooning under the covers, but no so great for hot, passionate sex under the covers.”

The authors are quick to point out that they’re not therapists. And that their book, which they wanted to be down-to-earth and practical, unlike so many of the academic and cerebral sex self-help guides they encountered during their decade of research, is aimed at couples who still get along, not those on the brink of divorce.

“It’s for couples who generally still love each other but they just don’t have that sexual spark anymore,” says Arana, who adds that at least half the couples they interviewed were in sexless unions.

“Your relationship is at risk without sex. Sex is the glue that bonds you together.”

The book has drawn its share of controversy. The authors have been taken to task by couples who proudly declare that they call each other “honey” and have no problems between the sheets, thank you very much.

Arana says it’s just a matter of time.

“Obviously there are people who are calling each other honey and having sex,” she says. “What we found through our research, however, is when you never call your spouse by their name — especially if you call them something sickly sweet like mama bear or papa bear — is that you’ve taken the sexual heat down a notch.

“Day after day, year after year, it slowly ebbs away your sexual fire.”

Once the pet names lift the lid on Pandora’s Box, the authors says other bad habits are soon to spill out, including, often, a squeaky change in voice pitch: the dreaded baby talk. This further corrupts what they refer to as a “sexual dialogue” — not just dirty talk (there’s a whole chapter devoted to that) but the way partners use words, gestures and eye contact to communicate with each other every day.

The case of Vince and his wife is presented in the book as a painful reminder of how falling into the “honey trap” can increase a couple’s risk of infidelity. Vince, an ad executive for a large company, calls his wife to tell her he won’t be home because he has to entertain a client. “You go ahead, honey cakes,” his wife tells him in her little-girl voice. “I’ve got my jammies and fuzzies (slippers with poodle faces) on and I’ll wait up for you.”

Vince confesses that his client, an attractive brunette, unexpectedly stirred something in him when she used his formal name, and, for the first time in ages, he felt like a sexual being again.

As for the sex act itself, the same rule applies: no cutesy names.

One subject in the book, Mindy, relates how, a few years into their marriage — both partner were using “honey” by this point — her once ultra-masculine husband starting initiating sex by saying, “Does honey want coochie tonight?” and they ended up having less and less of it.

Arana and Davis are also adamant that couples who want to bring back that loving feeling “close the bathroom door.” Contrary to popular belief, they say, sharing everything is not a good idea.

“Even in new relationships, we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again,” says Davis. “It’s like, ‘OK, I’m getting to know you quite well, so now I can burp and fart and let it all hang out.'”

Where other relationship/sex guides advise couples to have date nights, redecorate the bedroom, have sex in different locations, the authors argue that such Band-Aid solutions won’t rekindle the flame of desire until couples get rid of the subtle, yet powerful ways they’re snuffing it out.

“You have to clean house, so to speak,” Arana says. “Get rid of habits that don’t make you feel sexy with each other.”

First step: Throw out the honey.;

Say my name

Remember that there is sexual potency in using your proper names. Male and female. Man and woman.

Don’t allow sex to have a cutesy name either. “Coochie” will not make you hot for one another.

Always use your adult voice when speaking with your partner. Whether you have children or not, there are no excuses.

Keep those bathroom necessities to yourself. Intimacy in the bedroom: good. Intimacy in the bathroom: bad. Privacy is king.

Don’t embellish things like burping, farting, and other audible bodily functions. However “funny” you think it is, it’s not. It’s damaging to your sexual desire for one another.

Use words with your partner that make you feel sexy and maybe even a little smutty.

Who’s your mommy?

TERMS of endearment, also known as hypocorisms, have been around as long as the English language itself.

The oldest that appears in written English is probably “darling,” which dates back to the 11th century and means “a little dear,” says Mark Morton, a former University of Winnipeg English professor and author of The Lover’s Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex.

“‘Dear’ at that time probably had more of a sense of worthy, so darling was like saying ‘my little worthy one,'” says Morton, who’s now at the University of Waterloo.

Romantic nicknames tend to fit in three general categories, he says: food (honey, sweetpea, sugar pie), animals (lambkin, turtle dove, bawcock, coney), and those which imitate the nonsensical vocalizations that parents often produce when coddling infants (snookums, pookums, diddums).

The food-themed names suggest the person is an object to be consumed, says Morton, while the animal ones have “a hint of something primal, or bestial.”

As for the so-called nonsensical names, he says, they’re not totally arbitrary. They tend to make use of internal rhyme (honey bunny) and certain syllables in recurring patterns that humans are innately attracted to.

“Snookums, pookums, diddums — they all have the certain ‘ums’ sound, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s connected to words for mother throughout a lot of languages.”

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